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VISITING COIN FAIRS – London and beyond

Another coin fair before the summer break, and then with September, the coin fair and congress season will be here with the London Coin Fair at the Holiday Inn  (4 June and 3 September) and BNTA Coinex (30 September-1 October 2016) just a few weeks apart.  And we’ve just come back from the annual Historical Medallion study day in Warwick – all really interesting and with a mini bourse for medals too after supper!   Before I get all caught up in preparing for the shows as an exhibitor, here are a few thoughts on the history of coin fairs and how visitors might get the most from your day out or weekend.

World coins, tokens and medals are always for sale at the coin fair

World coins, tokens and medals are always for sale at the coin fair, similar to this and not always for mega sums!

One quarter anna India 1889

Reverse of the Indian coin of Victoria, quarter anna

Until  2011, I organised the London Coin Fair with my husband Howard before passing it on to Mike and Lu Veissid so I’ve seen the business from both sides, with my hair turning progressively white in the process. Coin fairs both in the UK and overseas have changed massively in the last 30 years.

The first major UK coin fairs started in the 1960s, at the Strand Palace and then at the Cumberland Hotel, long before the BNTA started their fairs. Like the US shows they copied, they were mainly for dealers to get together, buy and sell, and make the cash flow. Dealers from out of town brought their new purchases to London for the trade, local and overseas and went home with new stock. A few hardy collectors turned up and over the years the fairs changed from wholesale to retail.

Since 2000, the biggest change has been the rise of the internet with many collectors no longer bothering to go to coin fairs because they mainly find what they need online.  However you would be missing out if you never visited a show.  For a novice there’s nothing better than looking at lots and lots of stuff, comparing grades, being able to learn the basics, knowing what’s common and picking up on minutiae.  Seeing what’s real is worth all the trouble; both Coinex and the London Coin Fair are vetted, giving collectors a bit more protection.  For the more advanced collector, there’s the opportunity to meet up with your favourite dealers and find new sources, new friends in the business.  Some societies organise impromptu meetings, some online friends get together and most importantly, you are able to meet in person people you’ve only known on the net.  From experience we find that we deal more and offer more to collectors we’ve actually met because by chatting we discover what they really want and how they collect (which is very personal, and differs widely).

So a few general survival points for collectors attending coin shows:

1. Comfort:  Dress comfortably in layers and don’t carry around large heavy bags – it gets hot in packed halls.  There are cloakrooms but don’t leave valuables in pockets or bags. The bigger fairs in the US have dedicated security rooms and photo ID but not in UK or in Europe where security patrols and random bag searches are the norm.

2. Money: Although more and more dealers accept plastic most do not and only take cash.  So be prepared to find the nearest ATM and to carry cash safely about your person.  Don’t expect to buy bullion price related coins for anything other than cash.   Also most dealers only accept the currency of the country e.g. sterling in UK, euros in France, and of course dollars in USA.  However, in UK at the larger fairs there will be dealers who exchange euros and dollars for sterling but don’t count it as it depends on whatever is traded on the day.

3. Enquiries: Be patient – dealers may be used to coping with several people at the same time but it’s not that easy.  If you ask for something or make a general enquiry and the material is not immediately to hand come back a little later.   If you’re leaving your contact details (email/phone number etc) please make sure it’s legible!  Same goes for the information from the dealer so you can contact them later.

4.  Accounting:  Ask for a receipt if you need one and none is given automatically.  Most registered dealers use the global VAT scheme for secondhand goods (so we don’t have to hand out invoices for small amounts – it used to be a book-keeping nightmare years ago).  Dealers also use the gold coin scheme which requires you the buyer to provide valid ID now – a small concession so that gold bullion is exempt for VAT.

4. When to visit: First thing first day there are always queues to get into the fair.   As stock is limited, many collectors and dealers want to get into the fair as early as possible but if you’re travelling a distance and just for the day you may arrive mid-morning which is still perfectly OK.  For Coinex and LCF there are ‘early bird’ tickets but for most people, the advertised opening time is more than sufficient given the number of dealers at these large shows.  We always tell the story about a dealer who didn’t arrive until almost closing time and bought something that had been passed over by all the other dealers and collectors – and made a multi-thousand pound profit when he sold it on!   It’s all about what you know.  In general terms after the initial rush, it’s easier to chat late morning and early afternoon.  Unfortunately there’s been a tendency in recent times for dealers to pack up early which is why the London Coin Fair closes at 3.30 to new visitors and Coinex closes at 4pm on Saturday.  Fair organisers are in discussions with dealers about this.

Bromsgrove Guild Holy Family bronze plaque, Arts and Crafts period, early 20th century - the sort of medal we like to bring to fairs

Bromsgrove Guild Holy Family bronze plaque, Arts and Crafts period, early 20th century – the sort of medal we like to bring to fairs

Finally, around the fairs there are likely to be other events – auctions and talks and the opportunity to visit permanent exhibitions, whether in London or elsewhere.  So do take time to plan your day and weekend, and make sure you take time out to have something to eat, to drink and to meet your fellow hobbyists and collectors.  Happy collecting!

Dates for your diary in 2016; we’ll be attending those in bold as exhibitors.  Check before you travel in case of cancellations.
London Coin Fair,  at the Holiday Inn Coram St, London WC1  4 June, 3 September and 5 November
Bloomsbury Hotel Coin Fair first Saturday of the month when no London Coin Fair, next dates  2 July, 6 August in Great Russell St, London WC1
Coinex BNTA London, Millenium Hotel, Grosvenor Square, W1 30 September- 1 October
Token Congress Northampton 7-9 October

Contact us for further details.


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